It may be hard to be believe after nearly six months of research and a 250-plus page report, the Pelham school district still has questions that it needs to answer about its math curriculum.
Alice Alston, a researcher and professor from Rutgers University presented the results of the district's K-12 math curriculum during Monday's school board meeting. Alston was part of group of researchers to review the curriculum at a cost not to exceed $18,000. They began their work in January and conducted interviews with teacher, administrators and parents as part of their research.
During the presentation, Alston listed three suggestion for the district to improve its math curriculum. Those suggestions were ongoing professional development, improving communications with district parents and aligning curriculum between the elementary and middle schools.
"Our work this year in the area of mathematics has been substantive and is the beginning of what will be a fruitful process," said Peter Giarrizzo, the district's assistant superintendent of for curriculum and personnel. "We certainly do not have all the answers to all of our questions tonight, but I am confident that we can use the enormous amount of data that we have received to further our learning, build on our strengths and compensate where we have opportunities to improve."
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Math has been sore spot for many parent in the school district who have expressed concerns over the district's elementary school math curriculum, "Investigations in Number, Data and Space." Parents have complained that the math program is too abstract and doesn't focus enough time developing practical mathematical skills.
Those concerns were evident in the surveys. While 77 percent of the of the parents in the district acknowledged that there are benefits to the district's math curriculum, the percentage was nearly split the down the line when the respondents were asked their overall satisfaction with the math programs.
About 51.2 percent of the parents surveyed expressed overall satisfaction with the math program while 48.8 percent express overall dissatisfaction. The survey gained responses from 409 and parents.
Jennifer Slattery, an elementary school parent, started a group earlier in the school year with four other parents called the "Pelham Math Committee." The purpose of the group is to find alternatives to the "Investigations" curriculum.
Slattery believes that there are some good points to the Investigations math curriculum, but she believes that the surveys show that there is enough dissatisfaction with the curriculum to warrant a change.
"It's not a few of us, It's a lot of parents," Slattery said. "You have 49 percent of parents who are dissatisfied with the math program in K-8 in Pelham."
, district parent and a math teacher at Eastchester High School who ran unsuccessfully for the school board this year, said he appreciates the different skills that Investigations teach children. But he said the curriculum doesn’t focus enough time on basic skills like memorizing multiplication tables.
Prencis said many of those students become lost as they go on to learn more complicated math concepts they weren’t drilled in the basics at elementary school level.
“I love the fact that investigations conceptual development, that it teaches seven times eight as array of seven rows by eight columns, it’s the area of seven by rectangles— you can look at it in 17,000 different ways,” Prencis said. “But at the end of the day, seven times eight has and answer and we have to know what that answer is, period. And the thing about Investigations I’m pretty sure doesn’t do a good enough job of is that there’s never one point at the end of the day where it says ‘yeah, we have to know what this is because we have to get to the next topic.”
The survey also showed that 37.6 percent of parents who responded felt that the district did not do an effective job of communicating how they can support their child’s learning. Also, 57.1 percent of parents stated that they had to supplement their child’s math instruction through private tutoring, supplemental non-computer activities or both.
More than 100 percent of the teacher who responded to the survey indicated that they supplemented the basic curriculum with at least one less each week. About 40 percent of the teachers who responded said they supplement to fill in conceptual gaps in learning, 47.5 percent said they supplemented to fill procedural gaps, 52.5 percent said they supplemented to prepare for tests, 40 percent said they did it to fill in problem-solving gaps while another 52.5 said they did it to promote memorization and computation.
Of the teachers surveyed, only about 40 teachers in grades K-8 responded. The surveyed was offered to the district’s entire staff of 268.
Peggy O’Leary, a member of the school board asked Alston if she had any idea why the teachers many teachers didn’t respond to the survey.
Alston said the teachers were all responsive and she didn’t get any sense that teacher were uncomfortable with the researcher’s presence. She suggested that maybe time and effort that went completing the survey combined with the day to day classroom responsibilities that many teachers had might have played a part in the low level of responses.
Alston suggested that the district offered the survey, which is anonymous, to its teachers again as way to broach the discussion of professional development.
Dennis Lauro, the superintendent of Pelham schools, said that there were 66 K-5 teachers and another 7 math teachers in grades 6-8 for a total of about 73 potential survey respondents.
Lauro said the next step is for a task force to review the report and decide how to proceed. He said the district’s curriculum, instruction and assessment council would also look review the report and offer their suggestions.